A world woven out of the finest threads; luminous scenes and characters; and cannibalistic nuns. This is Star Eater (Tordotcom, 2021), a stellar (but very grounded) novel by Kerstin Hall about Elfreda Raughn's escape from oppression and cruelty to freedom and hope.
The descriptions of place are painterly, scenes coming to life with colour and light. And light, illumination, is a key motif. We see the light glisten off bushes and glitter on flagstones, and we see the glimmering play of light on vines and light shafting into the dome of the Matyrium. And ultimately light becomes memory, not the memory of light, but the illumination of remembering, reconciliation, and awakening. Hall's world is vivid from the beginning and by the final pages the curtains have drawn back fully to reveal a pulsing world full of promise.
And it is a rich world: giant cats with forked tails and opulent night bazaars and Aytrium, a province whose origin is shrouded in Wolfeian mysts. And governing Aytrium, nuns who have established elaborate rituals to ensure their continued survival. But Elfreda Raughn doesn't want to be a part of it, and other people want Aytrium to fall. And against this dark background Hall plays out the strands of a kinetic plot and breathes life into a cast of characters we can care about.
Elfreda Raughn is the real star of Star Eater and it is her heartbeat which pulses through the novel. And in Efreda's story we can feel the echoes of other stories not yet told, her own and those of her ancestors. I read an ARC, but I will order the hardback; and where Elfreda travels next, by giant cat or otherwise, I will gladly follow.